Nicolas Cage is the hardest working man in show business. Over the past two years alone, he has appeared in ten films, including the Edward Snowden biopic Snowden and the bonkers horror comedy Mom and Dad. We’re barely two months into 2018, and Cage has already starred in two more: Panos Cosmatos’ revenge thriller Mandy, which premiered at Sundance, and Looking Glass, a psychological thriller about a married couple who take over a desert motel and discover the dark secrets it holds. The man clearly enjoys his work, and the world is all the better for it.
Cage also has a reputation for putting 100% of himself into every role he takes, no matter how small, so it wasn’t too surprising to learn that he had not merely Five Favorite Films he wanted to talk about, but a cool baker’s dozen. As he put it, “I can’t put it all in five. It’s just, there’s different movies for different reasons in different lifetimes.”
And listen, if Nicolas Cage wants to talk Thirteen Favorite Films, Nicolas Cage gets to talk Thirteen Favorite Films. Read on for all of his choices, in which he sheds some light on the ways Dennis Hopper, Bruce Lee, Jerry Lewis, and Jean Marais have all influenced his unique acting style.
Once Upon a Time in the West would come on the million-dollar movie. We had that once a week, I think, when everything was deployed on television. I had a [inaudible] television and I watched Once Upon a Time in the West, and I was blown away by the power in the stillness and silence of Charles Bronson as Harmonica, and I just thought the culmination of Morricone’s score with Leone’s gorgeous style, and then the showdown between Henry Fonda, who is outstanding as a bad guy, and Bronson was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever experienced in cinema, and it really made a big impact.
East of Eden was the movie that really put the hook in me to become a film actor, because of James Dean’s performance when he has the nervous breakdown trying to get the money to Raymond Massey, playing his father, from selling beans, and he’s rejected. That nervous breakdown affected me more than anything else, and that’s what made me want to become a film actor.
I saw Apocalypse Now really with everybody else, so Marlon Brando was there, and my uncle was showing the movie, and Dennis Hopper was there and [Marc Marrie], and … I don’t think Marrie was there, but everybody … Let’s see. Larry was there. They were watching the movie for the first time, and I must’ve been about, gosh, what was I? 12, 13? I don’t know, but it really put a big effect in me, and I was blown away by the scope of the film. I don’t think there really was a movie like that before with the helicopter sequences, and with Brando’s performance with Dennis Hopper was… I mean, he was really going off the rails in that, and that had a big impact on me as well, in terms of my own later choices with film performance. I wanted to get a little more Dennis Hopper or less Dennis Hopper with some of the stuff that I was doing, so that had a big impact.
Citizen Kane I saw when I was… My dad used to take me to the arthouse theaters, and I grew up on these movies. I was watching Citizen Kane when I was like eight years old, and I just watched it again. I watched it at night and I watched it the next day, and that is the best movie ever made. Nothing really ever comes close to it, and even now, the editing today doesn’t match. I don’t know if Welles did it, but I know he had total authority on the film, and then they took it away from him for The Magnificent Ambersons, and even now, in terms of performance, in terms of film editing, in terms of the cinematography, in terms of the music, all of it just came together perfectly, and it has never really been challenged in any way. I think it stays as fresh today as it ever was.
Was that something you were able to process, even as an eight-year-old seeing it for the first time?
Yeah. Yeah, I was blown away. I think Welles’ performance was heartbreaking, really, and that lands, even if you’re a child. The emotion is there, and you feel it. I mean, little kids can understand music that might seem complex — you can play classical music for a little child, and they will be affected. They know good music, and I knew what I was seeing was a great film, and it was exciting to see it as an adult.
Enter the Dragon was powerful to me because it was like watching a superhero come to life. I’d never seen anything like Bruce Lee, and that movie changed my life, because it made me believe that a man can actually do these extraordinary things physically, and he was a great actor. He had great facial expressions, and he’s also had a big impact in some of my choices as a film performer, certainly not in terms of my style of movement — nobody can move like him — but in some of the facial expressions. If you look at the end of Face/Off, when I shoot the Castor Troy character with the harpoon, my face goes through all these expressions. That was direct steal from Bruce Lee when he jumped on a guy and killed him with his feet. In fact, I went through that slow-motion shot rather recently with Mandy. I stole from Bruce Lee’s facial expressions when he breaks the guy’s neck and the camera goes right into his eyes and he’s got that very ferocious, wide-eyed look. He passed, and I put that in the picture.
The Nutty Professor. So Jerry Lewis, I met Jerry once. We became friends later, but when I first met him, he knew what a fan I was of The Nutty Professor, particularly the Buddy Love performance, and [inaudible] I said to him — and I meant it — I said, “Jerry, it’s just you and Brando,” and he took about a two-minute pause, and he went, “Well, Brando’s good also.” It was hilarious. He was wearing a kimono, if you believe that, a Japanese kimono and tennis shoes.
Something about Jerry Lewis’ direction, he believes in the total filmmaker. He felt that you weren’t really a filmmaker unless you starred in it, composed it, edited it, directed it, all of it, and that’s what he was, and I think that The Nutty Professor has also had a huge impact in terms of my own tone, performance style. I’ve borrowed from the Buddy Love character a million times, and so much so that I’ve had directors tell me I need to get new material. I put him in City of Angels, and I got the good fortune of having him play my father in The Trust before he passed on, so Nutty Professor was a big influence.
400 Blows I saw when I was a kid, and that of course really was heartbreaking. I felt so bad for the kid in that movie, and he went on to become an actor. I think he was in Last Tango in Paris, the actor in that.
War of the Gargantuas was something I just thought was so fantastical and so bizarre that it is my favorite of Honda’s movies, but the effects look great, and all the little toys, and it was just something that transported me. I can lose myself in that movie, and I love the brothers warring, and it has kind of like a personal feeling for me.
Juliet of the Spirits was something I also saw at a young age. It spooked me, but also kind of turned me on, and I found it thrilling and psychedelic and colorful, and it had an enormous impact on my childhood because I would have bad dreams about it. That’s also the case with The Wizard of Oz.
The Wizard of Oz, the witch was always haunting me, the green witch, the Wicked Witch of the West, so Wizard of Oz was also a huge impact film in my childhood, as well as Pinocchio.
I think Pinocchio is Disney’s masterpiece, and I think that it’s such a perfectly put-together film. It has such a beautiful message in it, and so much thought went into it, and of course it’s beautifully drawn, and the colors are extraordinary, and I love Monstro, and the underwater sequences are quite something.
Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. Again, very fantastical, very transporting and mysterious, and Jean Marais’ performance as the beast is wonderful. I wanted to have that sound to my voice when I did Moonstruck, and then Norman Jewison got very upset with me and lost his patience with it and almost fired from the movie. He called me on Christmas Eve to tell me that the dailies weren’t working, because he said, “You gotta drop the Jean Marais. I don’t want you sounding like [inaudible] talk like that in the character,” but the irony is that John Patrick Shanley told me that when he originally wrote Moonstruck the title was The Wolf and the Bride, so I thought there was some connection there.
A Clockwork Orange, of course, was like the ultimate film for an adolescent to see. I watched [Malcolm McDowell’s] performance in that, and it had such an impact on me that I would glue an eyelash on my eye and then go to school with one eyelash. My father really lost his patience with that one. He said, “You gotta take that eyelash off. You’re not going to school like that.”
Looking Glass is currently in theaters in limited release and available to stream. Mom and Dad is available to stream and on DVD/Blu-ray. And just for fun, here are Nic Cage’s top 5 movies by Tomatometer: